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Wings win opening game of the regular season at NAHL showcase

The Aberdeen Wings started the 2022-23 hockey season with a big 4-1 win over the Fairbanks Ice Dogs Wednesday afternoon at the NAHL Showcase in Blaine, MN.

It was a bit of a slow start for the Wings, who were seriously outshot in the game’s opening stanza — but they found their footing in the second period with two power play goals, and added two more in the final period to seal the deal.

While the Showcase typically hosts the season’s first games, the Ice Dogs started their season the weekend before — and after winning both of those contests, Aberdeen delivered Fairbanks their first loss in exciting fashion.

The Ice Dogs had the upper hand through the first 20 minutes of the game, taking 19 shots while holding Aberdeen to just three, and Jake Cameron lifted his team over the Wings with just over five minutes to play. The lopsided shots were thanks, in part, to three Wings penalties before Fairbanks saw their first skater in the box with less than 30 seconds in the period. But Aberdeen’s kill unit was solid, killing all three penalties and keeping the team within striking distance.

Trailing by one heading into the middle period, Wings goaltender Geno Pichora showed off his tenacity by making several key saves, and the Wings had better zone presence to start. They finally capitalized on their second power play of the game when defenseman Luke Lindsay fired from the perimeter and Nikolai Tishkevich was there to pick up the rebound for the Wings’ first goal of the season at the 5:01 mark in the second.

Later in the period, it was Fairbanks who found themselves in trouble when they committed back-to-back penalties and gave Aberdeen the 5-on-3 advantage — and the Wings capitalized when Lindsay hit the upper left corner to lift the Wings 2-1 on their second power play goal of the game at the17:16 mark. Jacob Vockler and Dylan Wegner each got assists on the eventual game-winner. In the second period, Aberdeen took 17 shots while holding the Ice Dogs to ten and skated into the game’s final break with the one-goal cushion.

“We worked on our special teams in the later part of training camp,” Wings head coach Steve Jennings said. “For our kill, we have some returners who have been giving us a good foundation. The power play groups have taken instruction well and it showed.”

Fairbanks came back firing in the third but Pichora refused to budge, turning away shot after shot to help his team generate more offense. At the 12:57 mark in the third, Zachary Reim sent a backdoor pass from the blue line to Alexander Gullichsen, who quickly fired into the back of the net for his first goal of the year and the 3-1 lead.

With the two-goal cushion, the Wings played with more confidence and physicality, pushing the Ice Dogs to scramble a bit and eventually pulling netminder Kayden Hargraves from between the pipes with around three minutes remaining in regulation play. After missing one empty-net chance, Tishkevich tracked down the puck behind the Fairbanks net and gave a beautiful feed to Jaxon Grossdidier, who was waiting to drive the puck home for his first goal of the year and the 4-1 lead.

Shots on goal were much more even during the game’s final 20 minutes, with the Ice Dogs taking 14 and holding Aberdeen to ten — but two of those shots were successful for the Wings en route to their first win.

Besides the incredible play from Pichora, who denied 42 of 43 shots overall, the Wings’ special teams unit was the star of the game, going 2-6 on the power play and staying perfect on the penalty kill, holding Fairbanks to 0-6. Tishkevich and Lindsay grabbed two points apiece, while Vockler, Wegner, Gullichsen, Reim and Grossdidier each picked up their first points of the season.

“Geno (Pichora) was the difference-maker for us tonight,” Jennings said. “Our start was flat and he stood tall.”

The 2022 NAHL Showcase continues Thursday in Blaine with the Wings (1-0-0-0) facing Odessa at 7:15 p.m. The Jackalopes (1-0-0-0) are also fresh off a win off a late-game goal to lift them 2-1 over the defending champions, the New Jersey Titans.

Fans can watch the broadcast using their HockeyTV login — tune into home audio once again — or they can see the game live at Buffalo Wings & Rings in Aberdeen, the official home for all Wings away games. The game’s broadcast can be heard via Hub City Radio’s 94.1 The Rock or on The Rock app.

“We need to build off what we did in the last two periods of tonight’s game,” Jennings said ahead of Thursday’s matchup. “We need a better start so we are not chasing the game the way we did in the first.”